I think much of what we have to offer in the Evangelical church all looks a bit lame. Let me give you some examples drawn entirely from my church.
- We run a book/leaflet table outside our church building. This is literally a table full of leaflets and books that we give away to passers-by.
- We hold open air meetings in town. This is a handful of us, standing around town, putting up homemade visual aids on a board and leading people through some sort of gospel message and/or interviewing people about how they became believers.
- We hold Muslim-Christian dialogues in which we deliver ‘presentations’ with some gospel content.
- We hold a regular litter pick in the hopes we might be able to speak with locals whilst out and about.
- We hold services aimed at including children which amounts to a Sunday School programme of games, quizzes, etc followed up by a gospel sermon, which is a bloke (usually me) speaking for 25 minutes about the gospel.
- We run English Classes every week between a handful of us. Much of what we do would be deemed very amateurish by those who were trained in this area.
This is just a list of stuff from our church. You can think of numerous other ways your church may reach into the local community and/or seek to attract them in. But an awful lot of what we do just feels a bit lame.
I have said it before, and it bears saying again, there is very little that we can ‘put on’ for people that the world can’t offer them somewhere else in a way that is bigger, better and altogether flashier. What is more, for the sake of a couple of quid, people can receive a better version of whatever it is we’re trying to replicate without the cost of being harangued with a ‘religious bit’ they had little interest in hearing. After all, if they were really coming for the message, they would rock up on a Sunday when it is the main event. But they don’t do that, they come to our [insert event here] night because somebody asked them and they thought it’d be a laugh knowing that the cost of a free event is the talk at the end. Interestingly, in certain circles – in a bid to bring ‘buy in’ or ‘value’ to the event – some charge for the privilege of a more amateurish effort at which a gospel message will inevitably get lumped onto the end. Surely the only thing bringing people to that sort of thing is the strength of the friendship with the one asking them to come?
To come back to the point, I often look at what we’re doing and feel it is a bit naff. Divvying out some leaflets to people hardly feels like you are breaking new territory for the kingdom; offering fairly pedestrian presentations about some aspect of the Christian faith to a handful of people committed to a diametrically opposing belief systems does not feel especially significant; little of what we do would sell out the tiniest of venues were we to ticket it. But I want to say that we should not be scared of such lameness.
Before I go on, it seems worth making a few caveats here. I am not saying we should aim to do obviously rubbish stuff and revel in its crushing terribleness like it is some sort of badge of honour. Likewise, I am not saying we should just bullishly press on in unfruitful works when to stop our particular method is not a matter of faithfulness to scripture and there are obvious reasons for the fruitlessness that are within our power to change. Nor am I suggesting we actively seek to do things as badly as possible. We should try and do things as well as we can, notwithstanding competing priorities. The problem, I sense, is that many are so scared of being seen as lame, unexciting or unprofessional that they never really do any evangelism at all or they shy away from anything but the slickest of the slick.
But it is not our powerful rhetoric or clever methods that will win people to Christ, it is a work of his Spirit. The Lord is as capable of saving an individual who reads a lame leaflet or hears a pedestrian presentation as he is through all singing, all dancing events and shows and whatnot. Let’s not forget that the early church did not grow by competing with the Colosseum; it was through ordinary blokes – often unimpressive speakers like Paul – standing up and speaking to whoever was milling about and spending time with people in conversation as they were able. There was nothing flashy or professional about the house churches that sprung up. There was an awful lot of ordinary, plodding, daily and weekly behaviour based around teaching, eating, prayer and just spending time together (cf. Acts 2:41-47). Their evangelism, when we look at it, was rarely any more exciting than ours.
John Piper famously reminded us that we are not professionals. We are ordinary people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ. We are called to share that same message with others. That may at times look a bit ropey, unprofessional and – yes – a bit lame. But the power of God isn’t confined to leaflets and presentations, it isn’t bound up in methodology, it is intrinsic to the gospel itself. All too often, we shy away from our lame modes of evangelism, not because we think it dishonours the Lord and doesn’t commend him, but because we do not really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We assume too much of our techniques and approach and think too little of the gospel itself.
So embrace the lameness. Not as a badge of honour, or as a means of purposefully doing a worse job than we ought, but knowing that salvation is a work of the Spirit bringing the gospel to bear in the lives of those that hear it. The same Spirit who can work through the most amazing, sell-out conference or mission is the same Spirit who can apply the gospel to a passer-by who picks up a leaflet from a table outside your church. The same Spirit who used Peter’s amazing sermon on Pentecost was the same Spirit who used Paul’s feeble speech. Accept your lame evangelism for what it is – simply another means of seeking to reach the lost with the gospel – and thank God that the work depends entirely upon him and his sovereign good purposes.